Volatile Returns: Commodity Investing Through Miners
Investors consider gold and silver as safe haven investments. But the companies that produce gold and silver often offer volatile returns, creating opportunities for astute investors.
Volatility is a double-edged sword, particularly when it comes to commodity investing. During the good times, it can create skyrocketing returns. But during bad times, it can turn ugly.
Today’s infographic comes to us from Prospector Portal, and shows how investing in precious metals equities can outperform or underperform the broader metals market.
Capitalizing on Volatility: Timing Matters
Just like most investments, timing matters with commodities.
Due to the complex production processes of commodities, unexpected demand shocks are met with slower supply responses. This, along with other factors, creates commodity supercycles—extended periods of upswings and downswings in prices.
Investors must time their investments to take advantage of this volatility, and there are multiple ways to do so.
Three Ways to Invest in Commodities
There are three primary routes investors can take when it comes to investing in commodities.
|Direct physical investment||
Among these, commodity-related equities offer by far the most leverage to changes in prices. Let’s dive into how investors can use this leverage to their advantage with volatile metal prices.
The Fundamentals of Investing in Mining Equities
When it comes to commodity investing, targeting miners and mineral exploration companies presents fundamental benefits and drawbacks.
As metal prices rise, the performance of mining companies improves in several ways—while in deteriorating conditions, they do the opposite:
|Category||Rising Commodity Prices||Falling Commodity Prices|
|Outlook||- Improved outlook||- Deteriorated outlook|
|Stock Price Movement||- Equity growth||- Equity decline|
|Dividend Payouts||- Increased dividends||- Decreased dividends|
|Financial Performance||- Increased earnings||- Decreased earnings|
With the right timing, these ups and downs can create explosive opportunities.
Mining companies, especially explorers, use these price swings to their advantage and often produce market-beating returns during an upswing.
The Proof: How Mining Equities React to Metal Prices
Not only do price increases translate into higher profits for mining companies, but they can also change the outlook and value of exploration companies. As a result, investing in exploration companies can be a great way to gain exposure to changing prices.
That said, these types of companies can generate greater equity returns over a shorter period of time when prices are high, but they can also turn dramatically negative when prices are low.
Below, we compare how producers and exploration companies with a NI-43-101 compliant resource perform during bull and bear markets for precious metals.
All figures are in U.S. dollars unless otherwise stated.
|Mining Company||Company Stage||Primary Metal|
|Market Cap. |
Oct 31, 2019
|Market Cap. |
July 29, 2020
|Bull Market Performance|
(Nov. 1, 2019-July 29, 2020)
|Bear Market Performance
(Jan 02 – Dec 31, 2018)
|Auryn Resources||Exploration||Gold, Copper||$181M||$330M||60%||-39%|
|Wesdome Gold Mines Ltd.||Production||Gold||$1,104M||$1,885M||68%||110%|
|Red Pine Exploration||Exploration||Gold||$13M||$22M||29%||-55%|
|Revival Gold Inc.||Exploration/ |
|Erdene Resource Development||Exploration/ |
|Endeavor Mining Corp.||Production||Gold||$2,622M||$5,874M||54%||-13%|
|Yamana Gold Inc||Production||Gold||$4,572M||$8,279M||87%||-22%|
During the bear market period, the price of gold declined by 2.66%, and despite engaging in exploration activity, most companies saw a slump in their share prices.
In particular, exploration companies, or juniors, took a heavier hit, with returns averaging -31.66%. But even during a bear market, a discovery can make all the difference—as was the case for producer Wesdome Gold Mines, generating a 109.95% return over 2018.
- Average returns for gold producers including Wesdome: 24.83%
- Average returns for gold producers excluding Wesdome: -17.65%
During the bull market period for gold, gold mining companies outperformed the price of gold, with juniors offering the highest equity returns averaging 153.43%. Gold producers outperformed the commodity market, the value of their equities increased 69.61%—less than half of that of exploration companies.
Silver: Bears vs Bulls
Similar to gold mining companies, performances of silver producers and explorers reflected the volatility in silver prices:
|Company||Company Stage||Primary Metal|
|Market Cap. |
Oct 31, 2019
|Market Cap. |
July 29, 2020
|Bull Market Performance (Nov. 1, 2019-July 29, 2020)||Bear Market Performance (Jan 02 – Dec 31, 2018)|
|Pan American Silver||Production||Silver||$2,973M||$10,550M||125%||1%|
|Americas Gold and Silver||Production||Silver||$335M||$482M||10%||-56%|
|Dolly Varden Silver Corp.||Exploration||Silver||$28M||$74M||152%||-32%|
|Endeavour Silver||Production||Silver, Gold||$458M||$837M||72%||-10%|
During the bear market period for silver, its price decreased by 9.8%. Explorers and producers both saw a dip in their share prices, with the equity of silver producers decreasing by 21.63%.
However, the discovery of a high-quality silver deposit again made the difference for SilverCrest Metals, which generated a 116.85% return over the year.
- Average returns for silver exploration companies including SilverCrest: 8.32%
- Average returns for silver exploration companies excluding SilverCrest: -27.86%
On the other hand, during the bull market period, the price of silver increased by 34.33%. Silver exploration companies surpassed the performance of the price of silver.
- Average returns for silver producers: 69.04%
- Average returns for silver exploration companies: 95.36%
The potential to generate massive returns and losses is evident in both cases for gold and silver.
The Investment Potential of Exploration
Mining equities tend to outperform underlying commodity prices during bull markets, while underperforming during bear markets.
For mining exploration companies, these effects are even more pronounced—exploration companies are high-risk but can offer high-reward when it comes to commodity investing.
To reap the rewards of volatile returns, you have to know the risks and catch the market at the right time.
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Mapped: The 10 Largest Gold Mines in the World, by Production
Gold mining companies produced over 3,500 tonnes of gold in 2021. Where in the world are the largest gold mines?
The 10 Largest Gold Mines in the World, by Production
Gold mining is a global business, with hundreds of mining companies digging for the precious metal in dozens of countries.
But where exactly are the largest gold mines in the world?
The above infographic uses data compiled from S&P Global Market Intelligence and company reports to map the top 10 gold-producing mines in 2021.
Editor’s Note: The article uses publicly available global production data from the World Gold Council to calculate the production share of each mine. The percentages slightly differ from those calculated by S&P.
The Top Gold Mines in 2021
The 10 largest gold mines are located across nine different countries in North America, Oceania, Africa, and Asia.
Together, they accounted for around 13 million ounces or 12% of global gold production in 2021.
|Rank||Mine||Location||Production (ounces)||% of global production|
|#1||Nevada Gold Mines||🇺🇸 U.S.||3,311,000||2.9%|
|#5||Pueblo Viejo||🇩🇴 Dominican Republic||814,000||0.7%|
|#6||Kibali||🇨🇩 Democratic Republic of the Congo||812,000||0.7%|
|#8||Lihir||🇵🇬 Papua New Guinea||737,082||0.6%|
|#9||Canadian Malartic||🇨🇦 Canada||714,784||0.6%|
Share of global gold production is based on 3,561 tonnes (114.5 million troy ounces) of 2021 production as per the World Gold Council.
In 2019, the world’s two largest gold miners—Barrick Gold and Newmont Corporation—announced a historic joint venture combining their operations in Nevada. The resulting joint corporation, Nevada Gold Mines, is now the world’s largest gold mining complex with six mines churning out over 3.3 million ounces annually.
Uzbekistan’s state-owned Muruntau mine, one of the world’s deepest open-pit operations, produced just under 3 million ounces, making it the second-largest gold mine. Muruntau represents over 80% of Uzbekistan’s overall gold production.
Only two other mines—Grasberg and Olimpiada—produced more than 1 million ounces of gold in 2021. Grasberg is not only the third-largest gold mine but also one of the largest copper mines in the world. Olimpiada, owned by Russian gold mining giant Polyus, holds around 26 million ounces of gold reserves.
Polyus was also recently crowned the biggest miner in terms of gold reserves globally, holding over 104 million ounces of proven and probable gold between all deposits.
How Profitable is Gold Mining?
The price of gold is up by around 50% since 2016, and it’s hovering near the all-time high of $2,000/oz.
That’s good news for gold miners, who achieved record-high profit margins in 2020. For every ounce of gold produced in 2020, gold miners pocketed $828 on average, significantly higher than the previous high of $666/oz set in 2011.
With inflation rates hitting decade-highs in several countries, gold mining could be a sector to watch, especially given gold’s status as a traditional inflation hedge.
The 50 Minerals Critical to U.S. Security
This graphic lists all minerals that are deemed critical to both the economic and national security of the United States.
The 50 Minerals Critical to U.S. Security
The U.S. aims to cut its greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2030 as part of its commitment to tackling climate change, but might be lacking the critical minerals needed to achieve its goals.
The American green economy will rely on renewable sources of energy like wind and solar, along with the electrification of transportation. However, local production of the raw materials necessary to produce these technologies, including solar panels, wind turbines, and electric vehicles, is lacking. Understandably, this has raised concerns in Washington.
In this graphic, based on data from the U.S. Geological Survey, we list all of the minerals that the government has deemed critical to both the economic and national security of the United States.
What are Critical Minerals?
A critical mineral is defined as a non-fuel material considered vital for the economic well-being of the world’s major and emerging economies, whose supply may be at risk. This can be due to geological scarcity, geopolitical issues, trade policy, or other factors.
In 2018, the U.S. Department of the Interior released a list of 35 critical minerals. The new list, released in February 2022, contains 15 more commodities.
Much of the increase in the new list is the result of splitting the rare earth elements and platinum group elements into individual entries rather than including them as “mineral groups.” In addition, the 2022 list of critical minerals adds nickel and zinc to the list while removing helium, potash, rhenium, and strontium.
|Mineral||Example Uses||Net Import Reliance|
|Beryllium||Alloying agent in aerospace, defense industries||11%|
|Aluminum||Power lines, construction, electronics||13%|
|Zirconium||High-temparature ceramics production||25%|
|Germanium||Fiber optics, night vision applications||50%|
|Nickel||Stainless steel, rechargeable batteries||50%|
|Tin||Coatings, alloys for steel||75%|
|Cobalt||Rechargeable batteries, superalloys||76%|
|Antimony||Lead-acid batteries, flame retardants||81%|
|Zinc||Metallurgy to produce galvanized steel||83%|
|Titanium||White pigment, metal alloys||88%|
|Bismuth||Medical, atomic research||94%|
|Tellurium||Solar cells, thermoelectric devices||95%|
|Vanadium||Alloying agent for iron and steel||96%|
|Arsenic||Semi-conductors, lumber preservatives, pesticides||100%|
|Cerium||Catalytic converters, ceramics, glass, metallurgy||100%|
|Dysprosium||Data storage devices, lasers||100%|
|Erbium||Fiber optics, optical amplifiers, lasers||100%|
|Europium||Phosphors, nuclear control rods||100%|
|Fluorspar||Manufacture of aluminum, cement, steel, gasoline||100%|
|Gadolinium||Medical imaging, steelmaking||100%|
|Gallium||Integrated circuits, LEDs||100%|
|Holmium||Permanent magnets, nuclear control rods||100%|
|Indium||Liquid crystal display screens||100%|
|Lanthanum||Catalysts, ceramics, glass, polishing compounds||100%|
|Lutetium||Scintillators for medical imaging, cancer therapies||100%|
|Neodymium||Rubber catalysts, medical, industrial lasers||100%|
|Praseodymium||Permanent magnets, batteries, aerospace alloys||100%|
|Rubidium||Research, development in electronics||100%|
|Samarium||Cancer treatment, absorber in nuclear reactors||100%|
|Scandium||Alloys, ceramics, fuel cells||100%|
|Tantalum||Electronic components, superalloys||100%|
|Terbium||Permanent magnets, fiber optics, lasers||100%|
|Thulium||Metal alloys, lasers||100%|
|Ytterbium||Catalysts, scintillometers, lasers, metallurgy||100%|
|Yttrium||Ceramic, catalysts, lasers, metallurgy, phosphors||100%|
|Iridium||Coating of anodes for electrochemical processes||No data available|
|Rhodium||Catalytic converters, electrical components||No data available|
|Ruthenium||Electrical contacts, chip resistors in computers||No data available|
|Hafnium||Nuclear control rods, alloys||Net exporter|
The challenge for the U.S. is that the local production of these raw materials is extremely limited.
For instance, in 2021 there was only one operating nickel mine in the country, the Eagle mine in Michigan. The facility ships its concentrates abroad for refining and is scheduled to close in 2025. Likewise, the country only hosted one lithium mine, the Silver Peak Mine in Nevada.
At the same time, most of the country’s supply of critical minerals depends on countries that have historically competed with America.
China’s Dominance in Minerals
Perhaps unsurprisingly, China is the single largest supply source of mineral commodities for the United States.
Cesium, a critical metal used in a wide range of manufacturing, is one example. There are only three pegmatite mines in the world that can produce cesium, and all were controlled by Chinese companies in 2021.
Furthermore, China refines nearly 90% of the world’s rare earths. Despite the name, these elements are abundant on the Earth’s crust and make up the majority of listed critical minerals. They are essential for a variety of products like EVs, advanced ceramics, computers, smartphones, wind turbines, monitors, and fiber optics.
After China, the next largest source of mineral commodities to the United States has been Canada, which provided the United States with 16 different elements in 2021.
The Rising Demand for Critical Minerals
As the world’s clean energy transitions gather pace, demand for critical minerals is expected to grow quickly.
According to the International Energy Association, the rise of low-carbon power generation is projected to triple mineral demand from this sector by 2040.
The shift to a sustainable economy is important, and consequently, securing the critical minerals necessary for it is just as vital.
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